Digital Negatives Usage Agreement


“Oh, and we want all the images you create in high resolution on a jump drive. Our other freelance photographers always gives us 'our images' on jump drives”. Hmmm.

If you are working as a photographer in any capacity you have probably heard, or will hear this statement from your clients. Does that mean you give them what they ask for? Not necessarily.

Let’s back up a few decades or so to explore earlier days of professional photography and how clients received the images you created.

If you have been around long enough, you came from the analog days. That is, you created images on film. Remember film - that acetate roll in a metal canister with photo sensitive material on it. You would either process it in a chemical bath, or send it out to a photo lab for processing into negatives, printed proofs, or contact sheets. Oh, yeah, that old-fashioned stuff, "Film," you might be saying.

You'd then deliver yourself or courier the contact proofs to the client. They would select images by circling desired images with a red grease pen. Your client would note what size of each image they wanted for their intended purpose, and return contact sheets to you.

You would send the negatives back to the photo lab for printing, or print the image(s) in a darkroom yourself for delivery to your clients. Rarely did the client ask for the negatives. The client had the print to use as they chose for their project, and you owned the negatives.

Clients would sign a licensing agreement to use said images as specified. Any additional usage of images would require additional compensation paid to you for usage beyond what was initially specified in the agreement.

Whew, what a laborious, time-consuming process – but that worked for the time.

In those cases where you did “Work-For-Hire”, you provided, or were supplied film. You created images to client specifications, and you gave client the contact sheets and film. You received a check and walked away. You had no ownership in the created images. You were just a guy with a camera.

However, for most pro photographers, this was rare to give away your negatives to a client. By doing so, you were no longer able to generate any additional revenue from those images you created. The client owned all rights – because they held the negatives.

In the few cases where I gave away negatives, I ascertained how images were to be used by the client and determined that my future earning potential from job was extremely limited. But that was rare, and only for historical archives. Even so, I asked for, and received 'photo by' credit on all published images.

If you chose to be a 'Staff Photographer' you were supplied film, there was an in-house processing lab, and you received a weekly paycheck, health benefits and a retirement plan. You did not own the images you created. Period.

Fast forward to this decade in the digital realm and I must ask the question. When you were shooting film, how often did you give away film and Rights of images you created to a client?

If you answered rarely, then you have the ability to generate additional revenue. You know how to write the initial and secondary Usage Fee clause in your Agreement.

However, there are photographers giving away their digital negatives and Rights to clients - and losing any ability to earn additional revenue for their created works of art in the digital realm. What happens to the photography market if that continues? Check the book, Pricing Photography by Mical Heron and David MacTavish for more detailed information on Usage Fees.

Clients have budgets for advertising and promotional campaigns and are more than willing to work with freelancers to compensate them fairly for their creative visual works.

If you're hesitant to negotiate for full compensation in your Agreement, find a lawyer and get help writing your Agreements. Stop giving away your future earning potential.

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